RADIUS BOOKS, SANTA FE
IN COLLABORATION WITH
THE ALBUQUERQUE MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY
THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS
Project by The Center for Land Use Interpretation in association with 516 ARTS | see index page 134
above & right: CLUI NEW MEXICO MOBILE EXHIBIT UNIT, 2009 | by The Center for Land Use Interpretation | converted office trailer, 9 x 8 x 28 feet
CLUI’s temporary display facility, located on the fringes of Albuquerque, contained the exhibit Extra Terrestrial: Aspects of the Sky/Ground Interface in
New Mexico which featured information about the region and the New Mexico landscape.
In 1995 I gave a talk in Marfa called “Land Art in the Rearview Mirror,” in part because my own
interests have gone on down the road since I was first entranced by Earth Art in the 1960s and
‘70s and in part “because the monumental land art that epitomizes the term takes much of its
power from distance—distance from people, from places, and from issues.”1 From that
distance the general is favored over the specific. Geography, especially cultural geography, is
neglected in favor of an abstracted “site” and a “view.” I don’t believe that an artwork becomes
“Land Art” just because it is placed outdoors or is made of wood, earth, leaves, flowers, or
stone, (etc.); it needs to have a more direct connection to the land and/or to the landscape.
I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that Land Art is for city people. It offers them/us an antidote
to an urban landscape often crammed with art and visual competition. Public art belongs in cities
and large towns, places where people interact with the built environment on a frequent, familiar,
on-foot basis—places where public art can literally inform or enhance a neighborhood or public
domain. Land Art, on the other hand, is conventionally isolated from everyday experience, and
its impact is always dependent on its location. Its task is to focus landscapes that are often too
vast for the unaccustomed eye to take in. At best it can be simultaneously a spectacle and a
very intimate experience.
I arrived at this conclusion when thinking about what kind of Land Art would make sense in my
own semi-rural environment. I live between inhabited and mostly uninhabited areas—which
makes this essay a kind of NIMBY rant: not in my backyard, not on my back forty. Given the fact
that I have spent my life writing about art (sometimes Land Art), and ranting about the importance
of public art, this sounds like a kind of betrayal. But it’s hard to imagine what kind of art would
work here, at the edge of a tiny village in north central New Mexico, looking out across a highway
to private ranchlands and distant mountains. When I was a citydweller, I might have welcomed
the sight of some visual extravagance, or oddity, or subtle highlights to my daily surroundings.
But the fact remains that even semi-rural New Mexico is hard to improve upon.
1 Published in Art in the Landscape, Marfa: Chinati Foundation, 2000, 11–31; some of the talkwas also in my book The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society, New York: The New Press, 1997.
Land Art can be defined as creative interactions that humans commit directly in the landscape,
and it is a diverse field of endeavor with roots in cartography, landscape painting, and geography.
From monumental Earthworks to ephemeral traces made while walking, these actions are per-
formed in response to our need to turn unfamiliar space into known place. We
can contemplate Land Art from a variety of vantage points, but the intersection of artistic and
geographical practices offers up a unique insight into this desire to deeply know a place. Many
forms of Land Art are contemporary manifestations of Earth systems science, that field which
observes, describes, and analyzes the interactions between land, atmosphere, water, ice, the
biospheres, and societies, including the economies and technologies of the latter.
The scope of Earth systems science is extremely large and of necessity addresses what Aristotle
first described, and then Immanuel Kant affirmed in the 18th century, as a collision between the
laws of nature and the ethics of man. The current debate around climate change is a handy
example of how agonizing it can be to generate rules governing human actions which will
profoundly shape our natural environment.
A convenient place from which to start an examination of Land Art is with the profound effect
upon landscape painting generated by the polymath scientist, explorer, and artist, Alexander von
Humboldt (1769–1859), who was the most cited geoscientist of the 19th century. And a logical
place to end might be with Paul Crutzen, the atmospheric chemist who won the Nobel Prize for
chemistry in 1995 for his work on ozone depletion, and who was the most cited geoscientist
of the 20th century.
In 2000, Crutzen proposed that we’re no longer living in the Holocene, the term for the geological
age of the last 10,000 years, but that we have now entered the Anthropocene, the “era of
humankind.” He suggests that we can define the Anthropocene as having started in the 1790s,
when the increased burning of fossil fuels began to lay down a measurable trace of carbon
around the world, a stratum marking a profound disruption of life on Earth that underwent a
“Great Acceleration” in the 1950s with the postwar rise in consumerism. It is no accident that
IMAGE 45 | Scroll, Amazon, Brazil explorations (detail), 2009,by Ana MacArthur
The Santa Fe Art Institute presented an installationby Ana MacArthur, which featured a 15-foot scrolldocument—part an extensive project focusing onthe photosynthetic ingenuity of the Victoria amazonica, the world’s largest water lily from theAmazon Rainforest of Brazil. Part of the exhibition’stitle—Mumuru, the local Amazonian Indian namefor the royal water lily—is inspired by this organism.
From MacArthur’s first encounter with the Victoria amazonica in the Amazon in 1993, her work withlight has entered a chapter of deep engagementwith photobiology and the equatorial zone of theAmazon Rainforest of Brazil. The entirety of the proj-ect explores this bio-region, as it is one of the rich-est troves of biodiversity and it plays a critical role inthe stabilization of global climate. Friendships withthe Caboclos and river guides of the Amazon be-came her conduit to understanding this divine speci-men, its habitat, and the underlying issuesthreatening the rainforest. After five attempts,MacArthur succeeded in making a complete moldof the five-foot-diameter organism. This “impres-sion,” from one of nature’s most prolific photosyn-thetic lifeforms, was included in the exhibition.
Ana MacArthur is a light and environmental artistwhose installations have been exhibited internation-ally. For years her explorations have been driven by the urge to explore the sun’s electromagnetic energy we call “light”. She is devoted to under-standing the interrelationship between the physicsof light and a deeper ecological perspective.